The works collection comprises two volumes of The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands by Mark Catesby (1683-1749) and a copy of A Commonplace Book by botanist and philanthropist Peter Collinson.
They have been blocked from export in the hope a buyer will come forward to keep them in the UK.
The two first-edition volumes, published in 1731 and 1743, were given to Collinson by Catesby in gratitude for his support.
The works contain hand-coloured etched plates and an additional frontispiece with illustrations and watercolours by renowned botanical artists William Bartram and Georg Ehret. A Commonplace Book includes 75 original drawings.
Arts minister Helen Whately announced the export bar for the works. She said: “The intricate drawings in this collection offer us a special insight into how new discoveries and images of plants and animals in far off lands were shared before the advent of modern technology. This collection is a hugely important resource for future generations.”
The minister’s decision follows the advice of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA) which made its recommendation on the grounds of the collection’s historical importance and outstanding significance for the study of the history of science and the natural world in 18th century Britain.
The RCEWA noted that the fact that the volumes have remained together since Collinson’s ownership of them says much about their remarkable historical importance.
The decision on the export licence application for the albums will be deferred until April 16 and could be extended until August 16.
The group of works by Catesby were given to Collinson (1694-1768) during his lifetime and then ownership passed to Collinson’s grandson Charles Streynsham Collinson. The group was later bought by Alymer Bourke Lambert in 1834 and then by Edward Stanley Smith, 13th Earl of Derby, in 1842. They were then passed on through the family and the current owner has applied for an export licence.
RCEWA member Peter Barber said: “Peter Collinson was a key member of the circle around Sir Hans Sloane, the founder of the British Museum, British Library and Natural History Museum. He was himself a figure of European importance and the patron of Mark Catesby, whose Natural History was the most important work of natural history produced in early 18th century Britain. The volumes have not previously been easily accessible for research. Retention in this country could lead further light to be shed on relationships within Sir Hans Sloane’s circle.”